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031 Muted Words - Maud's new world

chapter 6

Collect this post if you want to know more about Maud's new world, now that Mara left.

Previous chapters

Chapter 1: Introduces Mara

Chapter 2: Maud is at Mara's place. It ends with Mara reading Maud a story.

Chapter 3: Maud can't sleep

Chapter 4: The Parting

Chapter 5: At Momo's

The evening Mara left, Maud fell asleep on the floor in the corner of her bedroom. She woke up to the characteristic noise of drunken adults trying to clean up the kitchen while not making noise. As many nights before she wonders if they would be more successful if they didn't try to be silent and just be themselves. Her muscles felt stiff from sitting on the floor. Like an old person, like Mara, she lifted herself up and went into her bed. From the corner of her bed, carefully tucked between the door frame and the wall, she slowly pulled out Icebear. He was old, not soft anymore. He lost a lot of his internal texture, looking now like a deflated ice bear and not anymore like the strong one he used to be.

Hugging him tightly, the tears came rolling down. Not knowing their source, Maud couldn't stop them.

The days became increasingly similar. Every day when she came home, before pressing her hand on the door knob activating the finger-reader, she was standing in front of Mara's door holding her breath. But the door greeted her with silence. At school, her friends slowly drifted away from her, as the red dots next to her name in school accumulated. 

“What’s wrong with you?” Anna asked her on the third day Mara was gone. “If you aren’t careful you’ll end up like her” pointing with her head at a girl from the final year with long brown hair, and brightly shimmering fingernails. 

“Ah… I don’t know. Been thinking a lot about what time is. You know, like it doesn't really exist. We invited it as a measurement unit to structure our day. But what if you could extend a second to feel like a minute?”

Anna stared at Maud. “That’s not possible. A second is a second. Anyway, it’s a non-problem. Have you tried Paletting? It’s become super popular. I told you about it a week ago. Have you tried it? I did. Got 1000 points for being early. They're gonna send me a tshirt when I hit 5000 points. It teaches you what to wear to look fabulous. Every morning I try out several outfits, upload them, and the app gives me a score. The quicker I’m able to pick the right outfit, the more points I get. And then there are the levels….Hey, are you listening? Whatever, let’s go to class”. With that Anna turned on her heels and walked off to room AA3589. 

Mara looked at her schedule, sighted. Another time the HIP, Human Improvement Protocol. Anna was right. If she didn't pay attention, she was going to end up like the dancing girl with brown hair and shimmering fingernails. 

The HIP room doesn't have a number like the other ones, as there was just one. Except for that it looked like a standard class room. Individual desks, each with sockets to connect the various devices the kids have, a touch screen sensor for identification, an ergonomic chair that automatically adjusted itself to whoever sat on it to avoid any injuries or pains. The walls were painted in the traditional pattern scientifically proven to relax children and increase concentration. A forest with old trees, birds flying around, some white fluffy clouds, and a bright sun. In the HIP room, some of the walls were textured. The trees felt rough, and touching the river felt like touching cold, soft, rubber. Your fingers even disappeared a bit into the blue, transparent material. 

On any day, there were three to eight kids. Sometimes Maud was alone, but that happened rarely. Most kids were older in their final years of school. There was the dancing girl with her bright colored fingernails. Some of them shimmered metallic. Her hair was long and brown and loosely tied together. She would dance into the room even though there was no music and she had no headphones on. Maud wondered if she had brain implants, but they were still very expensive. Out of reach for city kids like them for sure. Then there were the twins, the year above her. They dressed the same. Rumor has it they also have the same fingerprints. Maud noticed that one has slightly different wrinkles around her eyes. She must be laughing more than the other. Maud, the twins, and the dancing girl were the regular ones. The other four changed every time.

The HIP room was reserved for those who kept accumulating red dots on their schedule. Most kids ended up here because they answered too many questions wrong. Those kids changed frequently. Their lack of cognitive abilities was quickly resolved with customized learning paths and pills. Others showed signs of not conforming to the rules and needed stricter supervision to keep their behavior and thoughts in check. This was harder to correct. No drug existed yet to reduce free will. Thus, the regime implemented the age-old method of close supervision. Officially, it wasn't a prison. The practice was abolished thirty years ago.

"What do you do all day in the HIP room?" Anna asked. Maud was sitting on Anna's bed. After school Anna invited her over. It's already dark outside and from the kitchen you could hear Anna's father cooking. It smelt nice. Maud doesn't remember the last time she ate hot food that wasn't heated up in a microwave.

"The same as you. watch videos, answer questions. do quizzes. you can ask for more help and the explanation feels kinda dumb down. Like they think you are stupid or something like that. At the start the questions were super easy, it felt like grade 1 again. Now it's back to normal. Only difference is if I answer something wrong. It does this weird thing about showing me a video about how my life could be if I don’t improve. Some of them are hilarious, like picking strawberries from a field. Who does that? Others make me feel sad. I mean really sad. It’s all gray, and simple. And nobody in the video is smiling. Ever.”

“Creepy. Is it true that the twins have the same fingerprints?” Anna asked

“How should I know that? It’s hard to keep them apart and we have assigned seating. Sometimes I feel that they changed identity for the day. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. We’re not allowed to talk with each other. But I had enough time to stare at them. They sit in front of me. The way they move is slightly different. You know, the stuff people do when they think about something or are bored. Anyway, what’s happening in the class? Anyone moved up or down?” Maud didn’t really care about those class games, but she didn’t want to talk about the HIP. Her parents haven’t said anything about it, but they must have seen the notifications. You can’t disable those. 

“Dinner is ready!” Anna’s father called from the kitchen. The two girls got up. “I better go home,” Maud said, bending down to take her bag. “My parents prepared dinner for me.”

Anna laughed. “C’me on. They didn’t prepare food for you. They bought whatever they saw first. It might taste good or it might taste like rubber. Stay for dinner. You always do.” Maud wasn’t sure what to do. Anna’s dad is a good cook, and she always enjoyed staying over. But there was something in his eyes and voice today when she went into the kitchen to say hi that was off. 

“Dad, Maud is ridiculously funny today. She rather wants to eat the tasteless stuff her parents bought than to eat your delicious home cooked dinner. Can you believe it? I’ve told her she has to eat with us” Anna said while she entered the kitchen, dragging her friend behind her. 

“Oh, ehm, well... let me put another plate on the table then.” Anna kept happily telling him about her day, oblivious to her dad’s stiffness.

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